Q: Is a regret old skin.
A: Old skin is filled with
the rigors of giving.
Peter sat down next to the hot blonde at the bar. "I bet," he said, "I bet you're a rookie FBI agent."
It was stupid to hit on law enforcement but Peter was actually working a legit job this time. He wasn't using his own name, but his ID was pretty good if she asked.
She turned her head to look at him and he felt not the least bit stupid for hitting on her. She was gorgeous. She said, "Why do you think that?"
"Well, first there's the power suit, which is very nice, by the way. But you're also wearing sensible shoes, the kind you wear when you might be running after a suspect? Not the sort of shoes any banker would wear," Peter said. He smiled at her and tried to project charm and sincerity. "Also, I can see where you're carrying your gun and there's a missing girl which is the kind of thing they call the FBI in on."
"So, you're right, but why do you think, as a FBI agent, I have time for you?" She wasn't signaling she wanted him gone, so he kept smiling.
"You definitely have time to sit here and have a glass of wine. You seem like you're conscientious, so I bet you wouldn't drink on the job. Someone sent you home, or to take a break for more than a few hours," Peter said.
"Why would I spend my time on you?" She leaned back with her arms open.
"I don't know," Peter said. "You're hotter than anyone else in the bar. I felt like I just had to try."
She smiled and turned back to her wine. She finished her glass and then turned back to him. "Do you live here in Charleston?"
"I do, for now," Peter said. "By the way, I'm Peter."
She regarded him for a moment, then said, "I'm Olivia. What do you do, Peter?"
"I work for an engineering firm, contractor. Glorified temp," Peter said. "They just hired me for this one project."
"You sound happy about it," Olivia said.
"I don't like being too settled," Peter said.
"That's a turn on," Olivia said. She had this beautiful half-smile.
"You're not planning to stay in Columbia, are you? South Carolina isn't a final destination for either of us," Peter said. Peter tentatively touched Olivia's hand on the bar. She didn't pull away. "But for right now, I have an apartment that's four blocks away."
"You're very forward," she said.
"You don't like it?"
"I do, actually," she said, with a wide smile.
She took in everything as she walked through his apartment. He had no doubt she noticed the sparseness of the decorations and the furniture. It was pretty impersonal, but Peter never liked having too much to carry when he was about to leave.
"What's your last name?" Olivia went straight to the bed and sat down on the edge.
"Stuart," Peter said. "What's yours?"
"Dunham," she said, already taking off her sensible boots. She carefully placed her gun and badge and wallet next to her boots. He followed her lead, disrobing as she did. She stopped when she was just in her blouse and pants.
He sat down next to her again, but he held her waist and moved her up on the bed. He laid on his side and kissed her, she kissed him back fervently. He let her lead. He wasn't surprised she ended up on top, his pants and boxers dragged down to his thighs, her strong legs holding him down. She said, "I'm sure you have condoms here."
"Bedside drawer," he said. He reached for it and fumbled around getting one out.
It was fantastic, wonderful, dirty sex. He came first and and then pulled on her hips so he could bring her to his mouth. She definitely appreciated it.
By the time he'd cleaned up and she'd used the bathroom, he was ready to fall asleep. He got in bed and said, "You're more than welcome to stay."
"I will, for a little bit," she said. He watched her walk to the kitchen, find his beer, take one for herself. She walked back to the bed and drank the whole can while looking at her cellphone. It looked top of the line. When she finished the beer, he watched her set the alarm on her phone. She pulled the blanket up and turned to look at him. She said, "I don't usually do this." For a brief moment she looked almost insecure.
"I do, a little," he said. "Not a ton, but I've never been one for long relationships."
"You don't like being settled," Olivia said. She sounded like she was mocking him, a little.
"I don't," he said. "But I would change my mind for you."
She laughed and then said, "I bet."
The FBI was in town for a whole week. They found the little girl, dead, and investigated her murder. Olivia never mentioned anything about the case and Peter never asked. They had sex the next night in his apartment, the next night in her hotel room, the next three nights back at his apartment.
He loved her body, he loved looking over at her after, the way she listened when he described the ins and outs of his work. He said, "I'd happily listen to you talk, if you want to cover non-FBI's business."
She shook her head. "I'm good."
He saw on the news that the murderer had been found and arrested. He felt a pang of loss. He briefly entertained asking her if she would want him to come to Columbia. When he got home from work, he found her leaning against his door. She said, "Your last name isn't Stuart."
"No," he said. "It's not. Did you lift my fingerprints at some point?"
"Yes," she said. She wasn't smiling. "I could tell you were lying about something."
"I'm not wanted for anything," he said. Not currently in the United States, he was not. "I had to fake having a degree to get hired."
"Because you wouldn't want your employers finding out about your time at M.I.T.," Olivia said. She almost smiled and then went back to being serious. "You didn't even graduate high school."
Peter shrugged. He said, "Are you going to get me fired? I'm doing a great job at work."
"No," Olivia said. "I wanted to see how you'd react."
"Not like this?" Peter smiled at her. "You probably also saw who my father is."
"I saw why he's in St. Claire's," Olivia said. "But you're kind of a con man."
"Right now, I'm an engineer," Peter said. "It's a really interesting project."
She shook her head and looked down at her sensible shoes. "If you keep working as a engineer --"
"I can come see you in Columbia?"
She took another deep breath. She said, "Okay." Then she said, "Who fakes being a PhD for fun?"
"I got in," Peter said. "I didn't think they'd let me in. I liked the teaching, I got papers published, it was fun. I liked the chemistry department."
"It's ridiculous," she said.
"It was fun," he said.
"You're more than fun," Peter said.
Olivia said, "So your project is over, what are you going to do?" They were having dinner in Columbia. Everything Peter had decided to keep from Charleston was in a duffel bag in the back of his rental car. He'd stayed three months, more than he'd ever intended. Because of Olivia.
He said, "I don't know. What do you think I should do?"
"Does my opinion matter?"
"Yes," Peter said. "Maybe I'll stay in Columbia."
"I got the news I'm transferring to Boston at the end of the week," Olivia said.
"Congratulations," he said, sincerely. "That's a move up."
"It is," she said. "Would you want to live in Boston?"
"Do you balance out being near my father?" Peter ate for a few minutes. Olivia was silent, regarding him. She was very serious about figuring him out. Peter said, "If you want me there, I'd go."
"You don't like being settled," Olivia said.
"I don't," Peter said. "But then I met you. It's a little scary."
"It's scary that you would want to move in with me after three months," Olivia said. "You know this only works if you're completely up and up. Use your real name, get a real job."
"Not a lot of hiring for high school drop outs," he said.
"I think you can overcome it," Olivia said. "You have to, I'm FBI. I can't live with a criminal. I can barely live with you if you keep everything on the up and up. I like my job. I want to keep moving up."
"You seem to be assuming I'd be linked to you that way," Peter said, smiling. "I like it."
Olivia rolled her eyes. "We've known each other three months."
"I know," Peter said. "It's actually irritating how I keep telling you the truth and wanting to tell you the truth. Part of me is definitely itching to run far, far away, but then I think about your face, or the way you tie your shoes like they wouldn't dare come untied for you. It's awful, Olivia," Peter said, reaching for her hand.
"I really feel for you," she said. "I've never actually lived with a, a boyfriend."
"I have, but mostly because he had this incredible ranch, the views were something else," Peter said. "I've also lived with a few girlfriends, but it was never serious."
"You were just living together," Olivia said, pulling her hand back.
"They didn't know my real name, or they were part of something I was working on," he said.
"You were using them," Olivia said.
"A little," Peter said. "They were using me, too."
"You're not using me," Olivia said.
"Not in the slightest," Peter said. "If I was, I wouldn't be trying to think of the skills I can parlay into a real job."
"I'm glad you thinking about it," Olivia said.
In Boston, Peter worked at a garage, fixing cars. He had a good reputation as a mechanic of last resort who got cars running again, whether they were the latest in German technology or the Mustang someone got from their father. It paid okay. The hours didn't suck.
Olivia's hours sucked. Peter didn't complain. Olivia loved her job, he'd take the time he got with her.
Even if she insisted on inviting her partner and his wife home for dinner. Sonia Francis came into the kitchen and smiled at him. "You cooked, I assume. It smells great."
"Olivia can cook," Peter said. "It's just easier if I do. I'm sure you know."
"I do," Sonia said. She poured herself a second glass of wine. "Do you need me to carry anything out?"
"Bread," Peter said. "Take the bread."
Charlie regarded Peter coolly. As they all sat down to eat, he said, "So, Peter, you've gone by aliases."
Peter nodded. "I didn't graduate high school, I have some, uh, bad decisions in my past, so I've compounded the bad decisionmaking by trying to hide it. But not any more."
"Like I told you," Olivia said.
"I know what you said," Charlie said. "I'm not as charmed by pretty blue eyes."
"That's not true," Sonia said. "What about the girl you dated before me?"
"She had green eyes," Charlie said.
"Peter's eyes look green sometimes," Olivia said.
"It does say blue on my driver's license," Peter said.
"Your only family is in a mental institution for the criminally insane," Charlie said.
"If it helps, I hate him," Peter said. "I haven't been to visit him once."
"That's enough," Sonia said. "Olivia said you work on cars. We have a Honda and it makes the weirdest sound --"
Peter answered her question. He liked that Charlie was so hostile, Olivia deserved more people in her life who knew she was important and wanted her to be safe. It shouldn't just be Peter and Rachel.
After they left, Olivia helped Peter clean up. She said, "I realized today I never got you anything for your birthday."
"The big 2-6," Peter said. "It's fine. We were back in South Carolina, buying a gift probably would have upset our delicate balance of caring and not admitting we care."
"I care," Olivia said.
"And your birthday is next week," Peter said. "Anything you want?"
Olivia shut down, he felt he could name the split second when her eyes went blank and distant. "Nothing," she said.
"Why don't you like your birthday?"
"It's nothing, Peter," Olivia said.
He stopped loading dishes in the dishwasher and straightened up to look at her. He said, "Please." He meant, please tell me. Please let me in.
She finally said, "I had a stepfather." It was a horrible story even as he could see whole parts of her personality fit into place.
He said, "You could make him stop."
"Clearly, I can't," Olivia said.
"You could shoot him now," Peter said.
"I work for the FBI," Olivia said.
"Right," Peter said. "Nothing for your birthday, it is. We'll make our own holidays."
"Today is successfully had dinner with another couple day," Olivia said. "I didn't think we'd do it."
"I'm very charming," Peter said.
It took him two months to find Olivia's stepfather. The man was pathetic and small. Before Peter went down to Florida to meet him person, Peter investigated if there were warrants out for the man or any enemies who might want to track him down. The man had not made a lot friends in his life. Peter found both warrants and enemies, and notified all the many interested parties.
By the time Peter knocked on the man's door, Peter estimated the man had two more days at most of peace and quiet.
Olivia's stepfather didn't answer the knock. Peter said, "I know you're in there, shithole."
The door was pulled open by the shithead, snarling. Then he realized Peter was taller than him, younger, in significantly better shape. He tried to close the door, but Peter muscled his way in. Peter closed the door behind him. "You're going to stay away from Olivia forever," Peter said.
"Olivia who?" The sneer made the man's face even uglier. Peter backhanded him with his gloved hand.
The man ended up on the floor, holding his bleeding cheek. "Isn't that cool? Brass knuckles, but in gloves," Peter said. "Do you want to know how I did it? Or should I just demonstrate again?"
Peter kicked the man twice in his stomach. "I didn't do anything to these boots, they were already steel tipped."
"You think," the man sputtered, spittle mixing with blood coming from his mouth. "You think she's so special. Olivia's crazy. Her parents, both of them, they signed her up for experiments when she was just three. Experiments, they injected her and brainwashed her. I told her mom to stop them, but her mom insisted we were getting money. Years she was experimented on, until she was 8 or 9, that's why she's so horrible and insane."
"I totally believe you," Peter said. He was pouring out all the booze in the apartment. He lit one of the man's cigarettes, shredded the rest.
"That dipshit Dr. Bishop tried to tell me he knew best how to discipline my kid, he was the one holding her after school and injecting her with chemicals," the man said.
Peter started at the name. Experimenting on children sounded just like Walter, but it was more likely the same asshole who'd found Olivia's address in Boston had seen the other name on the mailbox. He kicked the man again, though, to shut him up.
"Bishop," the man sputtered again. "Bishop and William Bell. They worked together, turning that girl into a monster. I was just trying to keep her in check."
"I bet," Peter said. He kicked the man in the nuts and thighs until he finally closed his eyes, moaning in pain. "Stay the fuck away from Olivia or I'll be back. I'll be back with a gun and I'm not a scared 9 year old. Your death is an act of justice."
"She's a monster," the man said.
Peter left and closed the door. He burned the boots and gloves in a dumpster behind his hotel. It was nice to use his chemistry again.
On the flight home Peter thought about the story of the experiments. It was clearly made up. Olivia had never mentioned it. Olivia didn't know his father. It was the kind of story someone made up when they knew Olivia was living with a P. Bishop. It didn't take much research to determine Peter's father was a mad scientist.
Rachel was coming to visit, so Peter had finally decided to investigate his mother's storage unit. It was paid for via an automatic payment from her tiny estate. But Peter owned it all, like he technically owned all of Walter's things. Peter walked in and put Walter's books in a corner of the unit. He looked through the books his mother had kept. He took three of them that looked interesting. He opened a box. In one shoebox were pictures up to when Peter was 7, a separate box had pictures of Peter after he was 8.
"You have so many nightmares," Olivia said to him. She rubbed his back and held him when he woke up. "When did they start?"
"I've had them since I was 8," Peter said.
So something had happened, something that separated Peter at age 7 from Peter at age 8. It had to be some horrible thing Walter did. Peter was glad he only remembered when he was asleep. He took a few pictures he liked from the shoebox of his 8 years old and older self.
There wasn't one thing in the unit Peter felt sentimental about. He took a mug he remembered his mother using for tea so Olivia wouldn't think he was a sociopath who didn't care about anyone.
Peter's next stop was the kind of store that sold photo frames. He had the pictures of his mother, he had the three pictures Sonia had taken of he and Olivia. Sonia had correctly identified them as a couple that never took pictures of each other and Sonia had a new camera phone. "You know they're banning those," Charlie had said.
"But not from taking pictures of your friends," Sonia had said.
Peter put up the pictures in their apartment. Rachel would think they were normal, even though Olivia had sworn that wasn't what she meant. "Don't mention the shady past, right?"
"She's with that awful Greg and I guess she's going to have the baby but I don't want her to think you're like Greg," Olivia said. "I know it's irrational."
"You're always right," Peter said. "Rachel is often wrong."
"She's a great person," Olivia said. "She just makes some bad decision."
He wondered if Rachel would be happy their stepfather had been dead for two months. It wasn't anything Peter had done, per se. But it was hard for a weak old man with his accounts seized, suddenly jailed with some very bad people. The guy did not make friends easily, even in jail. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, Peter thought. He felt not one iota of guilt.
He didn't think about the so-called experiments. More and more it looked like it was made up.
Except he'd found a picture of Walter and William Bell and his mother, all laughing and smiling together. So they had known each other. That didn't mean that Olivia had been experimented on. It was clear her stepfather had done a lot of research to find Olivia year after year. Who knew what he'd dug up? Olivia and Peter had had tough childhoods, but they weren't Walter's science experiments. He knew that for sure.
"I'm going to be an aunt," Olivia said, smiling, as they laid in bed.
Peter hugged her close. "And she kept going on about your commendation for the identity thieves ring. I feel a little responsible for that."
"Yes, you know awful people," Olivia said. "We're keeping the pictures up."
"Until we have to make space for Rachel's little girl," Peter said. "I'm anticipating a lot of pictures."
Peter had made a nice dinner and Olivia was home late. So late in fact, he put the food in the oven to stay warm and laid down on the couch.
He woke up and it was dark in the apartment. Olivia had put a blanket over him on the couch. Peter got up and pushed the blanket aside. He took off his pants and belt and checked on the food. Olivia had eaten some of it and put the rest in the fridge.
He went into the bedroom where Olivia was still awake, looking at her phone. She put it down as he came in and turned off the light. "Sorry I missed your dinner," she said as he got in the bed.
"You had some," Peter said. "It's fine. I made it specially for you, by the way. For us."
"Did I forget something?" Olivia sounded abashed.
"I don't know if you forgot, but a year ago to the day we were in this bar," Peter said. He reached over and turned on the bedside light. He handed her the gift he'd wrapped and left in a drawer on his side of the bed.
"You bought me something for our anniversary?" Olivia pressed her lips together and then opened it. "You bought me three straight-to-DVD horror films." She smiled at him.
"You don't want jewelry," Peter said. "I think the first year is paper or tin or something, but it felt like three bad movies to me. Next year I'll get you five." He pushed her hair behind her ear and kissed her cheek. "One year together. This is my longest relationship."
"Didn't we reach that back at four months for you?" She put aside the movies and turned the light back off. He felt her hands at the waistband of his boxer briefs.
"Longest for you, too," he said.
"I don't understand how you look at me and know me so well," she said.
"Aw," he said. "I love you, too."
"I didn't say I love you," she said. She pulled down the waistband and gripped his dick.
He breathed deeply. "You said I love you."
"I said I didn't say it," she said. "But fine, I love you."
"I know, Han," Peter said.
She laughed and pushed off the covers. She slid down and began licking his balls and shaft. She said, "Thank you for my gift."
"You're welcome," he said before her mouth made him unable to really speak.